'It's never meant to be offensive...': an analysis of jocularity and (im)politeness in Australian and British cultural contexts

Date: 27 September 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus, Frederik de Tassiszaal, Hof van Liere - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 3:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte

PhD candidate: Valeria Sinkeviciute

Principal investigator: prof. dr. Jef Verschueren

Short description: Doctoraatsverdediging Valeria Sinkeviciute - Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, Antwerps Centrum voor Pragmatiek


This thesis analyses jocular verbal behaviours in terms of (im)politeness and aspires to contribute to a better understanding of this type of interactional practices in Australian and British cultural contexts. In order to explore how humorous interactions are produced, negotiated and evaluated, three different data sets have been examined: (1) two corpora (the BNC and Ozcorp), (2) two national versions of the reality television show Big Brother 2012, and (3) qualitative interviews with native speakers of Australian and British English. The first part is dedicated to the written data from the two corpora and offers a quantitative analysis of the verbal practice of teasing in terms of how it is done, what its functions are and how the targets react to it. The other two data sets provide the core analysis of this thesis.

The findings demonstrate that engaging in jocular interaction is appreciated in both cultural contexts and the target’s reaction to a potentially impolite verbal act is likely to be non-impolite in public. Having said that, it is essential to mention that an important distinction between frontstage (public) and backstage (personal) reactions to jocular behaviours had to be made. It was shown that there is a particular tendency towards frontstage evaluations of mock impoliteness on the part of the target and, on the other hand, more frequent evaluations of impoliteness backstage.

Despite this preference, there are, undoubtedly, instances when an explicit offence would be claimed. The analysis of the Big Brother data set has revealed that apart from similar issues occasioning offence in both Australian and British houses, particular differences could also be observed. Such issues as exclusion or claims to superiority generate explicit negative reactions to jocular behaviours in the Australian data, while more person-related issues (criticising one’s body or reminding someone of a painful experience) are more likely to cause offence among the British housemates.

Finally, most of the analyses are based on the native speakers’ (whether the Big Brother housemates’ or the interviewees’) metapragmatic comments. This can particularly be observed in the interview data that has demonstrated the interviewees’ ability to judge jocular behaviours from different perspectives, whether the instigator’s, the target’s or the non-participant’s. Interestingly, the results of the interviewees’ evaluations of two- and multi-party interactions from the Big Brother houses shown to them have also revealed a number of similarities between the housemates’ reactions to jocular behaviours and the interviewees’ understanding. 

Contact email: valerija.sinkeviciute@uantwerpen.be

Link: https://www.uantwerpen.be/nl/personeel/valerija-sinkeviciute/